A Vacationing Reporter's Notebook: From Pyle to Perv

By: Mark Fitzgerald Starting a vacation last week at the Jersey Shore, I vowed, again, not to buy so many of the papers available at the Point Pleasant Beach newsstand I still think of as Noble's Smoke Shop, this time catch up on some other reading. I would finish that biography of Porfirio Diaz and plow through those back issues of Foreign Affairs and Harpers.

Instead, as always, I caught up on all the available papers serving New York City and the Garden State, from the Record in the north to The Trentonian along the Delaware, from the thrilling vulgarity of the New York Post to the disappointing Star-Ledger, where dull story and hed writing seems to be creeping back in after a blessed absence of more than a decade.

In short, this was another newspaper busman's holiday, though I never once checked Romenesko, Twitter or any other digital content. Some observations of a few days off follow.

Kids, Can't You Just Hold It Until We Reach The Ernie Pyle?

The Indiana Toll Road, of all places, is a balm to the soul of any newspaper journalist who feels his occupation just doesn't get no respect these days. Three of the "service plazas," those roadside stops with Sunoco gas, Gloria Jean coffee and rest rooms, are named after Indianans who made it big in newspapers.

There's one for George Ade, the Chicago columnist of "Fables in Slang" fame. Another for Ernie Pyle. And one even for a cartoonist: John T. McCutcheon, who won a Pulitzer during his long career at the Chicago Tribune. His "Injun Summer" cartoon ran annually for more than three decades after his death in 1948 before expiring itself of political correctness.

Sex and The New York Times

I did manage to dent the pile of unread Harper's Magazines. Here's an excerpt from a Wallace Shawn essay in the August issue:

"My local paper, the New York Times, for example does not include images of naked people. Many of its readers might enjoy it much more if it did, but those same readers still might not buy it if such images were in it, because it could no longer present the portrait of a normal, stable, adequate world -- a world not ideal but still good enough -- which it is the function of the Times to present every day. Nudity somehow implies that that anything could happen, but the Times is committed to telling its readers that many things will NOT happen, because the world is under control, benevolent people are looking out for us, the situation is not as bad as we tend to think, and although problems do exist, they can be solved by wise rulers. The contemplation of nudity or sex could tend to bring up the alarming idea that at any moment human passions might rise up and topple the world we know."

Sex And The New York Post

Nobody does "perv" -- its favorite headline shorthand for anyone arrested for untoward sexual behavior -- than the New York Post. So when an irate subway rider snapped a cameraphone picture of another rider, um, pleasuring himself, the paper went to town.

Day 1 the story was that the woman's complaint at a local police precinct went ignored, and her photo evidence uninvestigated. LAZY COP'S A JERK, the Post hed went.

Day 2, the story was that the, well, perv was caught by more alert cops. The suspect explained that the offending member had just sorta "popped out." That inspired the copy desk and reporter even more.

STROKE OF BAD 'LUCK,' went the main hed. TRAIN CREEP'S EXCUSE, explained the subhed.

Reporter Laura Italiano's lede: "Now, that whack!"

FLITS And The Tabs

Even before New York's tabloids took a physical haircut, the tight space demands of headlines necessitated truncating the names of prominent political and world figures -- especially the bad guys. In my Cold War boyhood, Khrushchev was simply "K," or, very occasionally, "Kruschy."

The cropping continues. Here from a week or so of Post and New York Daily News heds:

President Barack Obama: Bam
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg: Bloomy, Mike
Convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff: Bern
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: A'jad


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